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2022 NFL Combine preview: 12 safeties the Lions should be watching

Who and what to watch at safety during the 2022 NFL Combine.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 02 Cincinnati at Notre Dame Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2022 NFL Combine on-field workouts and drills begin on Thursday, March 3 with the offense on display over the first two days. When the weekend arrives, the defense will take the field for their drills. The interior defensive line, edge rushers, and linebackers go through the process on Saturday, March 5, and the defensive backs close out the event on Sunday, March 6.

This is the latest in a series of articles that will explore the participants at the Combine that the Pride of Detroit staff believes the Detroit Lions should keep a close eye on during positional activities. Previously, we reviewed the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive line, interior defensive line, EDGE rushers, linebackers, and cornerback groups.

Next up: Safeties

Team need

At this moment, safety is one of the weakest position groups on the roster with only two players currently under contract: Will Harris, a starter, and special teamer Brady Breeze. Tracy Walker (the other starter) and Dean Marlowe (third safety) are unrestricted free agents, while special teams ace C.J Moore is a restricted free agent, and Jalen Elliott and JuJu Hughes are exclusive rights free agents.

The Lions need one, maybe two, starter-level players added to this roster this offseason.

What to watch for

Like with the cornerbacks, you’ll learn a lot about safeties in the Combine drills. Typically they won’t be as fluid in their hips, but they will have impressive lateral range and downhill explosion. Keep an eye on their balance through their hips. If they’re smooth in their backpedal, they could be slot corner capable. Acceleration is an important trait, both in space and when they have to react and close. Eye discipline when tracking the ball/ball carrier is a must, while natural catching ability is a bonus.

Now, on to the prospects.

Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame, 6-foot-4, 220

Suggested by Hamza

If he is the unicorn many believe him to be, he’ll need to test that way. On his game tape, we have seen rare range, impressive aggressiveness, and technical tackling. It’s all there. And when he steps onto the field in Indianapolis, he’ll look intimidating with his frame and composure. But he will have to prove the minute intangibles are also there if he hopes to do what no other safety has done in the past 30 years—get drafted with a top-three pick.

Dax Hill, Michigan, 6-foot-0, 192

Suggested by Jeremy

A hybrid defensive back, Hill can play single-high, split zone, in the slot, and at outside corner. He is a high-level athlete who ran in the 4.3s in high school, and he should be able to replicate similar numbers in the 40-yard-dash. Hill should also be able to show solid hip flexion in his transitions, matching the smoothness of a corner. The Combine should be good to him.

Jaquan Brisker, Penn State, 6-foot-1, 200

Suggested by John

Challenging Hill to be the second safety off the board come April, Brisker is another position versatile safety who can line up at both safety spots, as well as in the slot. Like the two safeties above him on this list, he should look like a corner at times in drills with his hip smoothness and plant-drive acceleration. He doesn’t take many false steps, which should be on display in most drills.

Lewis Cine, Georgia, 6-foot-1, 200

Suggested by Mike

As with most Georgia defenders, they can be a difficult evaluation at times because of the talent surrounding them. Cine is just a tick below the three safeties above him on this list, mainly because he’s not as smooth in his movements and that will limit his positional range. That being said, Cine would be a plug-and-play starter for the Lions’ split zone scheme, as he has shown countless technical skills that fit the scheme. He may be limited in how many things he can do (he won’t be able to line up at corner like Will Harris), but he’ll thrive at the traditional safety spot.

Jalen Pitre, Baylor, 5-foot-11, 196

Suggested by Ryan and Alex

Pitre has hybrid range, but unlike the others above him on this list, his experience extends to the linebacker level, not to corner. Pitre may not put up exceptional numbers at the Combine, but his biggest strength is his instincts, which helps mitigate a slower time or less explosive jump. In drills, he will very much look like a safety, and some may walk away unimpressed with his performance in Indianapolis, but his game film will keep him in the Day 2 conversation, and he might even be gone before the Lions' third-round pick.

Smoke Monday, Auburn, 6-foot-1, 200

Suggested by Morgan

Monday is a Day 3 project at safety, but his willingness to hit like a linebacker would make him an instant impact special teams contributor. He’s probably not going to stand out in the athletic testing, but he never takes plays off and plays with heart. In standard on-field drills, he will also likely blend in with the pack, but when a ball gets introduced, you may see his performance elevate a bit, as he has some ball-hawking skills.

Juanyeh Thomas, Georgia Tech, 6-foot-0 12, 207

Suggested by Erik

Like Pitre and Monday, Thomas is a downhill defender with linebacker-level hitting skills. He makes the list for me because of his performance at the Shrine Bowl, where he laid a few devastating hits that stopped the ball carrier in his tracks, including twice winning at the goal line and preventing a touchdown. At a minimum, he is a dynamic special teams contributor, with the upside to potentially develop into a hybrid safety/linebacker in the future.

Lions’ starting safeties from the Senior Bowl

  • Tycen Anderson (Toledo, 6-foot-1 12, 207, 33-inch arm length) is a unique player who can line up in the box and in the slot, making him a perfect matchup buster when covering tight ends.
  • Leon O’Neil Jr (Texas A&M, 6-foot-0 14, 211) is borderline draftable, but working with the Lions coaches in Mobile makes him a name to watch as a potential undrafted free agent.

Quick thoughts

  • Bryan Cook (Cincinnati, 6-foot-0 12, 210) converted from cornerback but still has some of those traits, which help him in covering tight ends in the slot.
  • Kerby Joseph (Illinois, 6-foot-0 12, 200) should look fluid in on-field drills at the Combine and is best suited for a split-zone scheme like the Lions' run.
  • JT Woods (Baylor, 6-foot-2, 188) has length, speed, and fluidity in his hips, which should help him raise his stock at the Combine.